Monday, December 7, 2009

Jan Steen: Master painter of fun and rowdy times

Among the painters of the Dutch Golden Age, no artist had masterfully captured the lives of common people in their jovial state as Jan  Steen did.

Jan Havickszoon Steen, son of a brewer was born in 1626 at Leiden where he spent his formative years.  An unknown artist from Germany named Nicolaes Knupfer was his first art teacher. He then sought work and lessons outside his hometown moving from Haarlem, The Hague and Delft. While in Hague, Steen studied under the landscape artist Jan van Goyen whose daughter, Margriet, he later married.

Customarily placed next in rank to his contemporary Jan Vermeer, the vibrant portrayal of subjects in Steen's works, however, are still unparalleled.  His well known pieces are bizarre during their time: Holland then was largely a puritan society, and in contrast, Steen's works were mostly comical, festive and on occasion -- raucous.

It could be assumed without difficulty that compositions of Steen's paintings were mostly improvised and never planned in detail. The scenes are usually cluttered and disorderly that an unkempt Dutch home is now regarded as a Jan Steen household.

The charm of Steen's works lie in their genteel ambiance. Subjects are rendered with precise and  elaborate skill showing each individual's character. He is also known for his paintings of children and fine detail for textiles. His mastery of light is highly distinctive as his skill in handling colors specially rose, salmon red, pale yellow, and blue green.

Steen was often perceived as a wanton drunkard because of graphic themes in his paintings. While he owned and operated taverns on separate occasions at Delft in 1654 and Leiden in 1672; Jan remained prolific in his craft throughout his career.

The widely imitated Dutch master had produced around 800 paintings. He died in 1679 at the age of 53 where his remains were laid to rest in Pieterskerk, Leiden.

Images from top to bottom: 

(1) Jan Steen Self-Portrait, 1670,  from Carolus
(2) The Rhetorcians, 1668, from Gallery of Baroque Paintings
(3) The Row During Gambling, shot and cropped from The Story of Painting by Anna C. Krause, ISBN 3-89508-083-7 Konemann Verlagsgesellschaft. Original Photo by Jorg P. Anders
(4) Jan Steen, the dissolute Household, 1668,  from Persephone
(5) The Family Concert, 1666, shot and cropped from Museum Cafes and Arts Vol. XVII by Sharon O' Connor, ISBN 1-883914-34-5 Menus and Music Productions Inc.. Posted with kind permission from The Art Institute of Chicago
(6) The Village School, 1670 from Gallery of Baroque Paintings
(7) Jan Steen Self-Portrait as a Lutenist, 1663,  The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by Direct Media Publishing GmbH.


(8) Video from Youtube with kind permission from meesterschilders.
Music by Peter Tchaikovsky, The Waltz of the Flowers.

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